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The Central Park Five Reviews

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Spencer S

Super Reviewer

March 29, 2014
As an in depth look into the heinous behavior of the New York City police department at the time of the case of the Central Park Five, this film digs deep into the motivations for these horrible choices to coerce, and the repercussions for five teenaged boys. Any film about false imprisonment is a tear jerker and fills you with compassion and anger. The film is quick to point out that the prison system incarcerates those they see as doing wrong, but does not remember them, or console them, for their false convictions, instead letting them go and shrugging as if to say "Oops." Ken Burns is always insightful and happy to show the cultural and ethno-political leanings of every event he covers. In this way we get the feel for the time period, the racial tensions between the police and racial minorities, and the fervor and rioting that took place. Still, it was a huge case that took the nation by storm, but once they were exonerated, no one cared, and that's what really makes this documentary stand out. Not only does this tell a story, but shows that no one cared about the ending.
366weirdmovies
366weirdmovies

Super Reviewer

February 6, 2013
The story of the five teenagers who were picked up in Central Park, charged with rape, and convicted based on suspect confessions, then freed after serving years in jail when DNA evidence identified the real rapist. A frightening reminder that whenever there's a horrible crime, society demands that someone must pay, and you don't want to be the one in the wrong place at the wrong time. NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE DURING AN INVESTIGATION WITHOUT A LAWYER PRESENT.
Harlequin68
Harlequin68

Super Reviewer

December 29, 2012
"The Central Park Five" is a heartbreaking and powerful documentary about five teenagers, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam who were falsely convicted in the rape and assault of Trisha Meili in Central Park on April 19, 1989. As District Attorney Robert Morgenthau puts it, if only they had known then what they later knew when the youths were exonerated. But here is the rub. The correct evidence was there, if only they had wanted to look for it. Instead, there was a rush to judgment by the police in coercing their confessions and later in the press, which the documentary painstakingly details with a thoroughly credible timeline of events. Later, you can see how their lives were adversely affected, as Richardson's sister points out that they are as much victims as Meili.

Whereas it is safe to say that New York City has changed dramatically over the decades, it is not quite as "The Central Park Five" alleges, barely glancing over the changes in the police department, along with perceptions that go beyond just those concerning race. For example, Meili felt comfortable enough to jog in the park after dark, as Central Park has always been less a sacred space as Koch testifies(It's neat that he allows to be interviewed here, considering his past intemperate comments. It would have been nice to have gotten other officials on the record to see how some of them sleep at night.), than a commons for all of the city's people to enjoy, even as the documentary via the tabloids of the day would say otherwise.(Not to be facetious but there are two ways I can tell a neighborhood is safe: joggers and dog walkers.) By the way, the only thing stopping New York State getting the death penalty at the time was Mario Cuomo's courageous annual veto.
John B

Super Reviewer

September 19, 2012
In typical Ken Burns fashion, we have a magnificently laid out documentary that is not only the story of five innocent teenagers but the history of a City and its rough and tumble period during the eighties. Excellent.
Daniel D

Super Reviewer

November 14, 2012
The Central Park Five is a documentary I've had my eyes on for over a year, but just now got to watch it. Different than I thought, since it looked unbiased and two sided initially, but still lived up to my expectations. Five black teenagers are charged with a rape and beating they never committed, and are incarcerated. The interviews with these men are highly emotional, but the NYPD, the police department responsible never comments. These boys were fed a confession, and this is the importance of not just knowing your rights, but most importantly using them. The 5th amendment is a wonderful thing, police are experts at forcing out confessions, that aren't always true. Back to the film, I love the large sample size of those being interviewed. Never makes you exhausted of an interviewee, and ranges between lawyers, those accused, and a juror. The film has dark humor, but is overwhelmingly a drama documentary, and just with testaments could become a tear jerker for some.
December 26, 2013
Brutal. Sad. Frustrating. Irritating. Simple evidence was completely ignored all for a very racially-charged indictment and prosecution. There aren't enough Law & Order episodes to compare to something this repulsively true. While longer than I believe it needed to be, it's still very well constructed and told.
October 3, 2013
"The Central Park Five" presents the facts of the case with clarity, and it is a courageous, revealing look at the often complex and broken legal system in the United States.
May 12, 2013
Excellent expose about how politics and race relations can make our justice system run off the rails. I hope these guys find justice in the future.
April 27, 2013
"Justice is blind" isn't supposed to mean this. As documentaries are supposed to make a viewer think and ponder and wait and think some more, The Central Park Five succeeds on that front while also making one's blood begin to boil. This is a documentary about a wrongly-convicted set of innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time ... and who also happened to be the wrong color (uhm, they won't say it; but ...). Based upon the infamous 1989 jogger rape case in New York City's Central Park in which a white woman was beaten, bound, raped and left for dead; Central Park Five is about five young boys between the ages of 14-17 (all having a darker skin tone) who were coerced into giving false statements as New York detectives, police and attorneys wanted a closed-door case to establish that NYC was toughening-up on crime (per beloved mayor Ed Koch). That their (coerced) false testimonies didn't even match up and NO DNA linked a single one of them to the crime scene, their skin tone was enough to convince the powers that be that they were guilty (because they had been causing trouble elsewhere in the Park that night ... and actually at the EXACT same time the woman was raped). Much like the West Memphis Three case, this is yet another example of justice being blind. One of the more interesting elements of the Ken Burns film to me was seeing his portrait/story of 1980s NYC and how night/day different it is compared to the city of today. While some things have changed, others have remained the same.
November 20, 2012
An important documentary about the great injustice done to five boys in the 80s.
February 1, 2014
The main evidence against the five African American teenagers, in the rape and assault of a white female jogger in Central Park, was coerced video-taped confessions, and through master documentarian Ken Burns' searing film, they're back before the camera to retell the events the way they really happened.
January 17, 2014
Great documentary that will make you angry and should make us think twice about rushing to judgment
November 25, 2013
Solid documentary chronicling the injustice behind the arrest of five youths after a vicious sexual assault in Central Park.
November 20, 2012
The justice system's abject failure would be hilarious were it not true. So complete was the perversion of the truth that it allowed a rapist & murderer to demonstrate more integrity than the whole of New York. 'The Central Park Five' is a quietly enraging portrayal of human failing. Watch, but watch with caution.
TheFeldster
August 20, 2013
When I reviewed "In the Name of the Father" many years ago, I observed a "true-story" effect, where any story can gather more weight and meaning if it is based on a true story. Turns out that effect is even more pronounced in documentary form, if "The Central Park Five" is any indication.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than a study of racial profiling, and how inherent it is in all of us, whether through the media or from the attitudes of our elders and peers. And, of course, the dire and tragic consequences of such attitudes.

It truly was an eye opener, and a film I think more people should see.
Robyn Nesbitt
October 3, 2013
"The Central Park Five" serves as a warning about legal incompetence, innocent lives destroyed, and a judicial system vulnerable to manipulation. The documentary details a nightmare scenario for five Harlem teenagers facing hard time, and the condemnation of America for a crime they didn't commit. The production sets the situation immediately, introducing the viewer to NYC in the 1980s, where Wall Street is in the process of rebuilding its reputation, while crack ravages the inner city, creating an explosive racial divide.

The film examines the infamous 1989 Central Park Jogger case, where a young white woman is brutally beaten and raped in New York's Central Park. At the same time, a group of five young black and Latino teenagers were quickly arrested for the crime and imprisoned. Following swift arrests by law enforcement officials, the prosecutors proudly declared the conviction as a step forward in the reclamation of a the city. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, all five are found guilty on multiple charges. Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, and Kharey Wise each spent between six to 13 years in prison, professing their innocence, while maintaining that it was a coerced confession to the crime. However, a chance encounter between the oldest of them and convicted serial rapist Matias Reyes, who years later yields his free admission of sole responsibility for the crime, and the claim is further substantiated with DNA evidence.

The documentary's approach seamlessly blends past and present, re-examines the assault, and walks you through what happened to the teenagers, from their arrest through their exoneration. Burns captures the complexity of history with startling results, yet "The Central Park Five" isn't quite as comprehensive as hoped, and fails to add anything substantively new to the story. Additionally, an element of balance is missing that would have turned a very good documentary into an exceptional one.

"The Central Park Five" presents the facts of the case with clarity, and it is a courageous, revealing look at the often complex and broken legal system in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding the conclusion presented by historian Craig Steven Wilder: "Rather than tying [the case] up in a bow and thinking that there was something we can take away from it, and that we'll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we're not very good people."
August 31, 2013
This struck me as a distinct departure for Ken Burns. Working with recent events rather than historical ones, the documentary is a little more traditional with less of an air of "wisdom" about it.

The case of the false guilty verdicts - which led to many years of unjustly served prison sentences - was actually less interesting than expected. It comes down to: some kids were intimidated into confessing. There were not many tricks, traps, or unexpected turns - except for the surprise confession many years later which led to the overturn of their conviction.

We do get a sense of how a bunch of kids were rounded up - and then, by happening to be held when the discovery of am especially violent rape was discovered, become the arbitrary focus of all subsequent investigations. Yet, without the cooperation of anyone in the police force or prosecution, we get little insight into the politics of how this pressure came.

When I was a teen, I once picked up a book on legal first aid (geared to people who might be arrested at demonstrations). The most important advice, which should be handed down from parent to child is always: *Always retain your right to remain silent. Never talk to police without an attorney present*
June 23, 2013
This movie was extremely shocking when looking at it now at relating it to current events. It has direct similarities to the George Zimmerman case and should be a perfect example of history repeating itself. Except you'd hope that our justice system got this ruling right and is past this stage of "needing someone to blame" in today's society and that even though fueled by race agenda's it can overcome that and provide a decent ruling based on the evidence alone. If history does repeat itself i guess we will find out 11 years down the line at whether Zimmerman was truly innocent or guilty. It should be 5 out of 5 stars but the movie lingered on the race problem rather long instead of focusing on the fact that the police department just wanted someone to blame. It's hard to put it at 4.5 though because it's pretty obvious all the pressure to find a criminal who committed the crime was fueled by racist thoughts. Either way, this documentary is a great wake up call that the justice system is not perfect and how society is so willing to create a mob to persecute someone but not willing to properly apologize when wrong.
June 27, 2013
Interesting documentary. Although the backstory of the murder could have warrented a B alone, I found the learning about 1988-1990 NYC the most fascinating part
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